EIFF: Searching review - screen-set thriller is a storytelling marvel
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Verdict: The latest addition to the emerging ‘screen movie’ genre transcends its gimmick to become an engrossing thriller. As with films like Rope (1948), The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Tangerine (2015), Aneesh Chaganty’s debut feature Searching is destined to be remembered more for its technical gimmick than its content. Which seems a shame – sure, this will go down as ‘that film set on a computer screen’, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact it’s also a skilfully executed whodunit and a family drama with real heart. The film begins with an extended montage that efficiently speeds us through the love story between David (John Cho) and Pam Kim (Sara Sohn), the childhood of their daughter Margot (Michelle La) and Pam’s diagnosis with a terminal case of lymphoma, all told via the shared household computer. It’s a digital riff on the celebrated opening of Pixar’s Up (2009), making use of home videos, emails and calendar reminders – ‘Mom comes home’ is repeatedly moved forward, then deleted – to poignantly sketch the family tragedy that the film rests on. The narrative picks up a few years later with David constantly on his laptop, distracting himself by browsing through photos and videos that remind him of happier times. Though his relationship with his now teenage daughter Margot is perfectly pleasant, their stilted message chain hints at a strain between them. When David awakes one morning to three missed calls from Margot and her phone going straight to voicemail, his initial reaction is annoyance that she didn’t take the bins out before school. But when he realises she never made it home the previous night, and discovers that she’s being lying to him about her whereabouts for some time, David starts to fear the worst. Instructed by the sympathetic Detective Vick (Debra Messing) to gather as much information on Margot as possible, David’s desktop becomes his investigation board on which he pins the various browser windows that may contain clues to his daughter’s whereabouts.
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